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- Australian researchers have begun looking into the possibility of dissolvable plastic, in an effort to stop one of our biggest environmental problems.
- If successful, the new type of plastic would be printed via a 3D machine and be able to break down in seawater within a month.
- Waste in our oceans is a growing problem, with 30,000 tonnes of plastic leaking into the water each year.
A group of scientists is hoping to create a new type of plastic that can be printed via a 3D machine and can break down in seawater within a month, in a bid to tackle the growing waste in our oceans.
Waste in our oceans is a growing problem with 30,000 tonnes of plastic leaking into Australia’s marine environment each year.
The amount of plastic in our oceans will also likely outweigh fish that same year, but a group of scientists hope to change that.Credit: Nathan Perri
By 2050 it is estimated that 99 per cent of seabirds will have ingested plastic, which often leads to slow and painful deaths, data from the federal government shows.
The amount of plastic in our oceans will also likely outweigh fish that same year.
But Dr Ruirui Qiao from the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology is hoping to create a new type of plastic that can be printed via a 3D machine and could be used for any number of things, like medical equipment.
The hope is that once used, the plastic can break down in the ocean, leaving behind carbon dioxide and water. The team has created a prototype of the material and will begin testing it in ocean water over the coming months.
It’s a challenging task, Qiao said, because they need to make sure the plastic can degrade in an environment with a relatively low temperature, high salt content and very few organisms.
“Our oceans are being clogged by long-lasting plastic containers, bags and even
microplastics – which pose a significant threat to ecosystems including millions of seabirds
and mammals,” she said.
Dr Ruirui Qiao and her colleagues at the University of Queensland are hoping to make a plastic that can break down to carbon and water in the ocean.Credit: University of Queensland
“Most of the materials that have been designed that are biodegradable, break down in the environment over several months. We are trying to make the process one month.”
She added there was limited research in this area, highlighting the importance of the scientists’ work.
The project, which is run in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has received $125,000 from the Queensland-Chinese Academy of Sciences Collaborative Science Fund to accelerate the work over the next two years.
Qiao said the goal is to commercialise a line of products in Australia and China within five years to replace traditional plastics and tap into a biodegradable market which is projected to exceed $9.5 billion by that time.
Australian Institute of Marine Science microplastic researcher Dr Cherie Mott said her research involved trawling parts of the Australian ocean and she’s always finding plastic. In some parts of the ocean, rubbish piles can be triple the size of France.
“I think any technology that reduces our reliance on the chemicals that we can’t degrade is an important step forward. Australia is good at minimising waste in the ocean but we could do better.
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